Paul spent only three weeks preaching the gospel in Thessalonica and establishing the church there (Acts 17:1-10). Then, persecution from Jews forced him to leave for Berea.
Three weeks is not a lot of time to impart God’s will on all aspects Christian living! So, a few months later, Paul sent Timothy to travel from Athens back to Thessalonica to encourage the young church (1 Thess. 3:1). Eventually, Timothy caught up with Paul in Corinth (1 Thess. 3:6, Acts 18:5), and brought news of the Thessalonian church’s steadfast faith and strength. Paul was so excited, that immediately he wrote a brief and positive letter, thanking God for their faith, and covering some basic truths.
Paul closed with seventeen rapid-fire admonitions (5:12-22); short phrases which, in Greek, each have a strong verb in the position of emphasis. What better brief review of basic Christian behavior could we find?
“Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” Teaching and leading would be especially important when so many members of the congregation were new to the faith. Let preachers and elders take to their work of instruction with “diligent labor.” Let members of the church recognize the importance of their work. I don’t know any preachers and elders who work for pay or praise, but then again, I don’t know any who don’t feel an upwelling of joy when a member says, “Hey, great job on that class!” It’s our duty to build up the spirits of those who work hard teaching and preaching, so that they will continue to do it, and will do so with all diligence and conscientiousness. It’s our duty to encourage and train our young men to take their places in the teaching ministry of the church.
“Live in peace with one another.” Every congregation is going to experience friction, differences of opinion, and personality conflict. All must strive to ensure these do not hinder the greater work of the kingdom (Eph. 4:1-2).
“Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” When Christians aren’t as spiritually strong as they ought to be, there can be different circumstances going on behind the scenes. Some are belligerent and unruly. They need a firm rebuke which comes from the word of God.
But others may be showing similar struggles of faith—coming to fewer and fewer worship services, shying away from potlucks, slipping into bad language and questionable relationships—not because of high-handed rebellion, but due to sadness or doubt. In fact, the Greek word oliopsychos literally means “little-souled.” These need attention too, but of a more positive and sympathetic and encouraging variety.
Some are weak spiritually or due to financial or health burdens; the word “help” in Greek is antechesthe and means literally “hold onto.” Like a person trapped in quicksand and growing exhausted, we should stoop down and give their grasping hands something to cling to, and pull them out to solid ground! Patience is what helps to know which approach is needed; patience sees every person as an eternal soul who desperately needs salvation (2 Tim. 2:14-16).
“See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” Fighting fire with fire rarely works, and is not the example of Christ’s sacrificial love. Eschew revenge, and use good to overcome evil (Matt. 5:39-44, Rom. 12:17-21, 1 Pet. 3:9, etc).
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Attend worship and sing with gusto. Even in bad times, count blessings and praise God. Paul shouted for joy in prison (Phil. 4:4) and in the midst of persecution (2 Cor. 12:10). In every situation, no matter how bleak, we can find things to be thankful for and praise God for. Cultivate a prayerful lifestyle.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” In Paul’s day, this quintet has to do with listening carefully to the inspired words being brought by prophets, though being on guard for the ever-present danger of false teaching (1 John 4:1-4, Rev. 2:2). The already-delivered Apostolic message was the standard to use (Gal. 1:6-9). While we may not look to receive direct revelation today, the same emphasis on teaching must hold. Let our conscience be open to training from God’s word. –John Guzzetta